Can Faith Lead to Abiding Certainty?
Many people assume that "faith" is incapable of bringing about "certainty." After all, faith is believing in something you don't necessarily see, right? And if you don't see it, then one can only "take it on faith." By way of contrast, we can observe scientific evidence in a laboratory and be certain of those results, right?
While there is an element of truth to this line of reasoning, it falls short of fully explaining biblical faith. Believe it or not, there really is truth beyond science. And while virtually everyone exercises human reason, only believers in Christ are able to access what I would call "sanctified reason." This realm of spiritual insight and divine logic only becomes available after a person first receives the free gift of eternal life. (Romans 6:23)
But before we consider sanctified reason, let's consider the fact that a significant number of believers readily admit to having occasional doubts about their own salvation. These honest doubts, while not benefiting the soul, certainly do not change the fact that everyone who has Christ living inside them through faith is a Christian (Rom. 8:10; Col. 1:27). Doubts do not change that reality, whereas the sin of unbelief and a rejection of the Messiah keep a person outside of God's family.
I recently listened to a message by Dr. Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at Caltech in 2009. Dr. Collins is well-known for his leadership of the Human Genome Project, and is the author of "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief." As an evangelical Christian, Dr. Collins describes how his faith compares to let's say, "mathematical certainty."
During the question and answer portion of the seminar, Dr. Collins was asked: "You mentioned that you think it's irrational for folks to be certain that there is no God. Do you think there is room to be certain that there is a God?"
Dr. Collins gently replied, "'Certain' is a strong word. And I would submit that 'doubt' is a part of faith that is inescapable. It's an element of faith, as Paul Tillich would say. So I think that for those who are believers like myself to say 'I am certain in the same way I am certain that two plus two is four,' I don't have that certainty. I have belief. I have that degree of spiritual confidence, but in terms of certainty at the highest degree, faith doesn't offer that. Maybe it does to some of you. It hasn't quite gotten there for me."
This honest response by a brilliant and eloquent Christian helps us to think a little deeper about the relationship between faith and abiding certainty. And if you were to listen to that entire message by Dr. Collins, I think you would find it to be stimulating as well as a beautiful example of gracious evangelism.
And it begs the question, "Can faith lead to abiding certainty, or is certainty in the realm of spiritual matters not even a possibility?"
As we study the evidence and listen to the testimonies of believers, it becomes clear that many Christians are convinced that their faith does in fact produce as much certainty as one has in knowing that two plus two equals four.
D.L. Moody stated it beautifully when he said, "Faith is the root. Assurance is the flower."
Christian faith trusts Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and embraces the promise of eternal life in heaven for all who believe. At the same time some believers would honestly confess, "While I trust Christ alone for salvation, there are times when I am only 75-80% sure I will go to heaven when I die."
The fact of the matter is that there are many instances where a lack of assurance does not equate to the absence of faith and salvation.
The key to our faith as believers is not how strongly we grasp the Savior's hand, but rather, the fact that Jesus will never let go of us. Jesus said this concerning believers: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28)
While Christians are definitely capable of struggling with doubt, it does not change the fact that believers trust Christ alone for salvation. In addition, the body of a believer is a "temple of the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor. 6:19) And doubts sometimes arise even within those who have the Holy Spirit living inside them.
While doubt is never promoted in Scripture as a virtue to pursue, it certainly isn't foreign to the hearts and minds of believers. In fact, it is a quite common.
No wonder Jesus talked about "becoming like little children" (Matt. 18:3) when describing how a person enters a relationship with God. Now is it possible for a child to have doubts? Of course. But at the same time, one could argue that the simplicity of a child's faith is often free from the type of doubts that seem to plague our minds as we get older and begin to entertain some of life's complex questions.
The faith of a child is simple, honest, and generally free from dozens of distractions. No wonder our Lord pointed to a child's faith when describing what it means to come to Christ and be saved, redeemed, justified, born again, and forgiven on the front end of your relationship with God.
Human reason produces certainty that two plus two equals four. And sanctified reason produces certainty that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and will bring me to heaven when I die.
The apostle John addressed the issues of faith and certainty this way: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13)
Pay careful attention to the words "believe" and "know" in that passage.
Faith is the root, and it involves simple trust in the Savior. Assurance is the flower, and it involves knowing with certainty that you will spend eternity with the Lord. Believing is trusting, whereas knowing is a matter of sanctified reason. And it is on a much higher level than mere human reason. Sanctified reason flows from the Holy Spirit as you fill your mind with God's promises in Scripture. The third Person of the Trinity gives you complete confidence that God will fulfill His promises to you and bring you to paradise one day. (Luke 23:43)
The Father sent the Son to be our Redeemer. The Son paid the full price for our sins on the cross. And the Holy Spirit produces faith and a "blessed assurance" within the hearts of God's children. In fact, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:3)
The abiding certainty that many believers enjoy today regarding their salvation is rooted in the Word of God, the character of God, the faithfulness of God, the promises of God, and the firm conviction that God never lies. In fact, "it is impossible for God to lie." (Heb. 6:18) And once you believe this will all of your heart, it produces utter confidence in everything God says, including the promises God has made to those who rely upon the Savior for salvation rather than their own pious efforts.
The apostle Paul wrote, "We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ." (Gal. 2:16) Here again, notice the word "know." Paul didn't merely indicate that he "believed" it, but that "we know" it to be true. This is sanctified reason, and it is only present when the Holy Spirit is living inside you through faith in Christ. God invites "whoever is thirsty" and "whoever wishes" (Rev. 22:17) to place childlike faith in the promises of the Gospel.
There is tremendous power in the Gospel message. (Romans 1:16) It has the power to save the soul, and it also has the power to produce both the root of faith as well as the flower of assurance in the heart of a Christian.
By the way, you might be interested in checking out an eBook I wrote entitled, "The Mathematical Proof for Christianity: Along With Other Reasons to Believe!"
So now what? Well, you are welcome to come to Christ with the faith of a child. This involves repenting of your sin and believing that Jesus' death on the cross paid for your sins. And then you are free to live everyday as a follower of Christ as you stand on the promises of God and cling to them as the ultimate anchor for your soul.
And so you see, faith can definitely lead to abiding certainty. But even if you struggle with doubts, it doesn't mean you're not a believer in Jesus. Regardless of your personal convictions or personal doubts, always remember: faith is the root, and assurance is the flower. As you feed your faith everyday on God's Word and God's promises, your level of confidence in Christ is bound to get stronger.
The apostle Paul wrote, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." (1 Cor. 3:6) And so don't ever underestimate what can happen through the seed of the Gospel. It is "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)
And it has now been 500 years since Martin Luther came to discover from firsthand experience that man cannot work his way to heaven. The passage of Scripture that sealed the deal for this Catholic monk and changed his life forever was this simple truth:
"The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)
And Luther's inner angst, despair, and religious depression would soon be replaced with an abiding certainty that changed the course of history. Who knows? The good news of the Gospel could change your personal history too, but only if you too accept it, receive it, and believe it.
Will you come to Christ today with the faith of a child, and believe in the Messiah as your Savior from sin? It's the only way to move from unbelief to faith, and ultimately to abiding certainty. There is no greater peace in life than being certain of God's sacrificial love for you, and knowing the eternal security that is yours in Christ alone.